Friday, August 29, 2014

Transportation Tip: Explore proven solutions to better move seniors and the disabled

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

This week's tip will show how you can make public transportation access better for seniors who live far from a fixed bus route by exploring fiscally sound solutions and encouraging your elected representative to act. Last week, The Riverside Transit Agency got some hard press --some of which was unfair--after Congressman Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) released the report "Public Transportation in Riverside County: How to Break Down Barriers to Access for the Disabled and Elderly." The problems Takano raises is very true and I'll provide some fair solutions on how we really can "break down" these barriers without breaking the taxpayer's wallet.

But first, here are your views on various transportation stories from the week:

In reference to your Aug 25 on the "talking points" blog, a regional connection that is not being adequately served is the transit gap between San Bernardino & Riverside Counties. The only adequate service seen is RTA's rout 204 which only operates peak hours, leaving riders to rely on local routes, which in turn can make a trip to opposite ends of the IE a multiple hour ordeal. If this could be address I'd greatly appreciate it. -Horacio Hernandez/Facebook

Circuitous: Try to explain how one can get to Ontario from Eastvale or Norco quickly by bus.
Map: Riverside Transit Agency
Besides the Omnitrans Route 215 connection to San Bernardino and the local RTA connection to Loma Linda, that's very true and The Transit Coalition is watching over the connections west of Riverside downtown. Both RTA and Omnitrans are aware of this issue and it's the matter of elected officials taking the lead and getting the route streamlining funded and fulfilled.

Many transit upgrades will be necessary to improve inter-county connections, especially at the west side. For example, bus transit routes on each end of the county line in the Eastvale and Ontario areas currently follow a design pattern that does not consider direct connections between two major activity nodes: The Eastvale Gateway and Ontario Mills Mall bus transfer hubs. The only inter-agency transit connection in this area involves a circuitous ride to the Country Village transfer point north of Mira Loma with many transfers. Check out our recent post for more details.

A connector running on I-15 is probably the most crucial and both RCTC and SanBAG need to make sure that their HOT/(HOV) proposals include either direct stations for a freeway-running BRT (probably realistically just at Foothill Blvd.) or dedicated access ramps to the lanes at key transit/park & ride points. marven/Transit Talking Points Blog

Coalition Concept: I-15 HOT lanes between the I-10 and SR-60.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by SANBAG or any public entity.
I've conducted a number of field studies for this corridor and yes the HOT lane proposals for the I-15 need bus transit infrastructure even if the facilities are primarily at first used by private HOV's and marketplace bus carriers. I'm exploring potential spots for such ramps and productive routing for potential rapid express BRT.

Getting Southern California  seniors moving

Getting back to the subject of the tip, Takano is correct in his finding that there is a mobility issue with the growing number of seniors living in areas far from public transportation. Just go to places like Temecula Valley Wine Country, La Cresta Heights, De Luz, or Anza. These areas which are far from public transit all have seniors and disabled people living there. However, much of the local press coverage of the report was one-sided which gave RTA a bad image unfairly with the reader implication that Riverside County seniors have poor access to the bus transit system. In fact, The Press Enterprise was the only major media source that I found that actually took the time to network with the transit agency, gets its response, and provided a balanced report even though the headline still makes a bold claim that "seniors have poor access to public transportation".

The truth is many Riverside County seniors live near RTA's service area and have good access to public transit with RTA's paratransit and Travel Training programs. But we cannot leave the people who live far from an RTA bus stop in the dark. The fact is RTA simply cannot solve the mobility issues of these people raised by Takano on its own. The county itself, the cities and the federal government need to get involved and provide real solutions.

Also we must be careful about the notion of simply throwing more money and federal rules at this problem. For starters, running additional RTA-operated fixed route services through low density areas certainly would have to be part of a larger through-route that connects in between two or more higher density activity centers in order to be productive with a strong ridership base.

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency
Likewise, Dial-A-Ride paratransit subsidies are very high and consume huge portions of a transit agency's operating budget. Although it sounds very noble on the surface, simply expanding such door-to-door services beyond the maximum 3/4 mile limit from a fixed RTA bus route would jeopardize the operating budget unless massive amounts of public money are thrown into it by the feds.

But spending more tax money is not the answer. Let me restate: RTA cannot solve this issue alone and the federal government simply cannot afford to be spending massive amounts of money toward paratransit travel given the fact that the national debt is already approaching $18 trillion. To be fair, Takano does has some workable solutions written out such as ensuring adequate transit funding and expanding Travel Training programs, although I certainly would suggest that such transit ambassador programs include volunteers. The North County Transit District's Transit Budy program is an example.

Takano and other members in Congress should continue to address, debate, and solve this problem and propose real solutions that would not require any major federal spending. A workable and debatable idea would be to allow private citizens and non-profit service organizations to get more directly involved in transporting seniors who live more than 3/4 mile of fixed route transit services. The service would be powered by using private vehicles with volunteer man power and efficient federal safety oversight. Administrative expenses for the program would be privately funded. Aside from implementation and training expenses, the only major ongoing taxpayer cost for operations would be reimbursements for fuel milleage at the AAA rate, a minor transit cost that won't bankrupt the nation and would stimulate the private non-profit sector. In fact, the rider fare might be able to cover that expense fully for short-range trips

This solution could be part of the Recruiting Individuals to Drive Our Elders Act. Such services would be fiscally friendly and could be integrated into existing transit agency paratransit programs. If planned right, the end-result would be improved door-to-door public transit mobility at a fraction of existing paratransit costs. Such reform could allow agencies like RTA to not only save big on paratransit expenses, but also expand Dial-A-Ride services further into the distant suburbs and rural areas without bankrupting its operating budget. The service would be so fiscally conservative to the taxpayer that such an option could even be open to the general public as well, allowing for an efficient way to link rural and tract neighborhoods with the bus system.

Transportation Tip: Search for "senior volunteer transportation services" on the internet and check out the existing services offered both by cities and the private non-profit sector. Explore the examples out there and encourage your representative in Congress to consider adopting some of those ideas into future transportation bills so that seniors and the disabled who live far from the fixed bus routes have more options to get around.

Alpern at Large: Jumping Sharks in Sacramento … or, What Would Fonzie Do?

By: Ken Alpern, Chair

ALPERN AT LARGE-You remember that famous two-part episode in the old sit-com Happy Days, when Fonzie jumped over a shark in water skis ... and demonstrably proved that an otherwise funny and smart family-oriented comedy series was running out of ideas?  Or is that too far back in the past, back in the 1970's, when obeying the law and living within one's budget was still hip and cool and obvious? 

Oh, my, aren't I dating myself...  So many of the younger and more evolved readers are so much more adept at navigating their way in the 21st Century, and its associated alternative thinking that gets beyond old-fashioned morals, common sense and seeing the big picture.

Especially since the term "1984" is...well...thirty years old! 

Ah yes..."1984" and "Big Brother" and "Groupthink" and "Family Values".  Terms and concepts so passé ridiculously old-fashioned.   

I mean, living within one's means, and government accountability and service to others...boy am I living in the past!
Read more and comment at CityWatch.

Ken Alpern chairs The Transit Coalition and is a LA Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Let's Debate: The combined RTA Routing of Routes 16 and 19 through Perris and Moreno Valley

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Continuing with the Coalition's analysis of the Riverside Transit Agency's proposed 10 Year Transit Plan, we have found that RTA has plans to combine two busy bus routes that serve the Perris-Moreno Valley-Riverside corridor into one. Routes 16 and 19 are proposed to be merged into a new Route 16 with a 30 minute frequency 7 days per week with additional weekday short turn trips between UC Riverside and Moreno Valley College with a combined headway of 15 minutes through this segment during the workweek.

In addition, RTA has proposed late night service for the route with the last bus arriving at its final destination at midnight.

There are some existing segments that are proposed to be excluded. To name one, RTA proposes dropping the University Avenue segment between UC Riverside and downtown Riverside. In addition, the deviation to the logistics job hubs off of the Ramona Expressway in north Perris is slated to be dropped as well.

For Riverside's University Avenue, RTA has indicated that Route 1 would serve as an alternative. On the surface, this proposal may work, but here are a few points that I need to address. First, if a significant portion of the total Route 16 ridership base passes through UC Riverside and into downtown or vice versa, maintaining through-service to the downtown transit station may be the better option. To be fair, Route 1 is proposed to have a 10 minute service frequency on weekdays with 15 minute headways on weekends and 30 minute frequencies during the evenings. That means the transfer layover time at UC Riverside would be short and acceptable. However, the main problem with the routing is the proposal to not align this route nor Route 1 to the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station. Route 16 riders headed north to connect to Metrolink would need to transfer twice in Riverside to reach the station. That connection needs to be addressed.

Regarding the proposal to remove the deviation to the logistics hubs in north Perris, the streamlined routing still runs near the warehouses within an acceptable walking distance. I don't see a major mobility threat in this case. A fair way to address the stop removal is for the City of Perris to work with RTA on this and ensure pedestrian and bicycle facilities are adequate between the logistics hub and the Perris Boulevard bus stops. In addition, timed transfers with Route 41 would help offset this issue as well.

Speaking of Route 41, RTA has proposed cancelling weekend service aboard this line due to lack of sufficient ridership. I will analyse this proposal to see what mobility negations will come about. Unlike lifeline connector routes, I don't anticipate any grave mobility threats given the presence of other north/south 7-day routes nearby. However, we shouldn't leave the people who live or work along the Lasselle/Evans Road corridor in the dark. I'll explore some alternative ideas such as timed transfers or weekend-only deviations so that productive mobility can be maintained on weekends through the affected areas.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Let's Debate: Closing bus transit gaps between two regions

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I'm keeping this post short today as I'm working with The Transit Coalition Executive Director Bart Reed in building up a campaign in the Newhall Pass area north of Los Angeles. That campaign as well as the topic of today's Let's Debate is about closing bus transit gaps between two major regions that are normally separated by natural hillsides, mountains, water, or any other protected natural area. The Coalition is currently advocating for streamlined, all day regional bus transit connections for the highways or roads that link two major regions together within the Inland Empire.

To name some examples in the Inland Empire, there is the 91 corridor between Orange County and Corona, the I-15 that links Lake Elsinore, Corona and Ontario, and local connectors between Riverside and Fontana. Up in the Newhall Pass, there is no direct bus transit connection between Newhall and Sylmar. The closest transit option is transferring to the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line. With the transfers, a short bus trip across the pass can last hours. The peak hour commuter buses and the North Hollywood express line out of Santa Clarita run right past Sylmar and San Fernando. You know, with the high volumes of transit ridership in the San Fernando Valley, one would think that there would be a productive bus connector that branched into the Newhall and Santa Clarita region that operated at least once every hour. That's why we're here to advocate for such a route.

Anyway, let me know in the comments or on the social networking sites if your local region is need of better cross-regional connections. I'll talk to you again Wednesday.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Transportation Tip: Stop Inland Empire Human Trafficking

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Transportation Tip this week will focus on how you can help authorities fight against a very serious crime taking place here at home and possibly aboard our trains and buses.

But before I cover this tip, here is a run down of your views and comments regarding public transportation and smart growth development:

Your Views:

 RTA needs to have service past sundown in Riverside esp in the downtown area but COC hates public transit -FBM/Twitter

I do agree with the commentator about getting later service for RTA's service area in Riverside. In fact, RTA's proposed 10 Year Transit Plan addresses that. The Coalition will keep a watch on these proposals until they become official changes and such schedules are reflected in the Ride Guide.

Regarding the statement "COC hates public transit", I need to ask, "what is COC?" I can assume that COC refers to Orange County or Chamber of Commerce, but accusing the county or any entity of hating public transit without backing them up with direct facts weakens the debate and makes transit advocates look foolish. We need to hold off on these smears. Yes, business people generally want efficient government, not over-regulation or wasteful spending. Yes, Orange County has a massive network of freeways and carpool lanes. There are a number of transit mobility opportunities that can be integrated into the infrastructure such as adding direct access ramps between the carpool lanes and adjacent transit centers which would allow for robust and productive all day BRT express services for the freeways. Good examples of multi-modal ramps include the I-10 El Monte Busway and the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County. People in business would likely not hate these ideas.

I encourage you to look at the plans for the Harmony development proposed in Highland. In it, the majority of their arterials will include at least one adjacent Class I, with there being one on both sides of the road the majority of the time. That is far superior than the Class IIs on arterials in numerous regards that stretch beyond just maintenance. Completely forgoing the Class IIs for 'sharrows' would be better in those instances. Also, since it will likely involve completely new construction or substantial reconstruction anyway, those paths need to be designed so that the intersections aren't at grade level from the very beginning. -marven/Transit Talking Points Blog

I appreciate the tip. The Harmony Specific Plan is about 270 pages. I'll have to page through it but will point out some of the more interesting facts as I find them. Certainly Class I trails are more superior than Class II lanes. Although separated grade crossings can provide for seamless travel, each crossing and trail needs to be looked at individually to keep construction costs in check, even if paid for by the developer. In general, the higher volume road crossings can warrant a full grade separation, lower volume streets can utilize a signalized at-grade crossing. The lowest volume cross streets can sustain an uncontrolled crossing. Of course, I'm generalizing and there will be exceptions here and there, especially if longer distance bikeways are involved like the Santa Ana River Trail. Should the Harmony Class I's be grade separated? I'll take a look at the maps first.

@TTCInlandEmpire Metrolink works for beach trips. Not so much for games and other events in Los Angeles. -Twitter/Phantom Commuter 

@PhantomCommuter Per website, return train coordinated with end of Angels games. Last Dodgers SB Line train from LAUS 11pm M-F, 11:30 Sat. -Twitter/The Transit Coalition

@TTCInlandEmpire Not for long... -Twitter/Phantom Commuter 

Graphic: LA Metro
The poster may be correct on the last point in the context with the Dodgers game but the Coalition does not want "Not for long..." happening to the Metrolink San Bernardino Line.

For the record, back in June during the Dump The Pump campaign, the Coalition echoed one of Metrolink's promotions to try out its weekend services which lead to this discussion on Twitter.

Well, well, well...because of a funding dispute between SANBAG and Metrolink, the last weekday departures for the San Bernardino out of Los Angeles Union Station are proposed to be cancelled effective in October. That means, people taking advantage of LA Metro's Dodger Express promotion from LA Union Station for weekday evening games and connecting via the San Bernardino Line will be affected during the post-season playoffs in October. Hence, the service is here for now, but "not for long." Again, we don't want that to happen.

The Transit Coalition is once again calling advocates to contact their local representative sitting on both government agency boards and demand a fair solution that won't tear apart the San Bernardino Line.

Transportation Tip: Support your transit agency's efforts to stop human trafficking

All over Southern California, I have seen our transit agencies active in educating its riders of Human Trafficking. For example, in San Diego County, NCTD has anti-trafficking posters posted on Sprinter ticket vending machines. I saw one at the Escondido Transit Center while conducting a field study of the new I-15 "One Sweet Ride" BRT Express service. Human trafficking is a disgusting crime that has become a multi-billion dollar business for crime organizations. The fact remains that trafficking victims might be using RTA and Omnitrans buses, stops and transit centers. Agencies should continue to reach out to riders so that this crime can be stopped.

What is trafficking? The National Human Trafficking Resource Center defines this horrible exploitation very accurately:

Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery where people profit from the control and exploitation of others. As defined under U.S. federal law, victims of human trafficking include children involved in the sex trade, adults age 18 or over who are coerced or deceived into commercial sex acts, and anyone forced into different forms of "labor or services," such as domestic workers held in a home, or farm-workers forced to labor against their will. The factors that each of these situations have in common are elements of force, fraud, or coercion that are used to control people.  Then, that control is tied to inducing someone into commercial sex acts, or labor or services.  Numerous people in the field have summed up the concept of human trafficking as "compelled service."  Every year, human traffickers generate billions of dollars in profits by victimizing millions of people around the world, and here in the United States.  Human trafficking is considered to be one of the fastest growing criminal industries in the world.

Locked in: A strip of wood is installed in this window sill inside of a Los Angeles apartment which housed trafficking victims. The wood locked it shut and prevented trafficking victims from escaping.
Photo: FBI
Trafficking has become such a widespread problem that no sector in the marketplace is immune from it. Victims include both foreigners and U.S. citizens. On top of prostitution, victims have been found and identified in manufacturing, restaurants, hospitality, construction, agricultural fields, beauty, and residential. There have been examples of it here in the Inland Empire.

This is a disgusting issue. Trafficking crime enterprises and the people who operate them have the gall to exploit innocent people into non-existent high-paying jobs, education, economic security, and friendship--victims who were seeking opportunity but were deliberately misled, lied to, and enslaved.   Once lured, these traffickers take away their victims private property including their personal identification cards and take "ownership" of them by locking them away in private homes and apartments with disgusting and inhumane living conditions. Traffickers threaten violence against the victims or their family if they try to run away or talk to authorities. Victims are also used as collateral for one's pleasure, subject to physical, psychological and/or sexual abuse. And all of this is for the greed of power and money.

For goodness sake, THIS HAS TO STOP!

Like NCTD, the Orange County Transportation Authority has also published a campaign to stop human trafficking on its website soliciting its bus riders to be vigilant. Inland Empire bus riders need to do the same.

Transportation Tip: We in Riverside and San Bernardino County should follow OCTA's lead and "Be the one to help out." Whenever you ride the bus or the train, be on the watch for suspicious or unusual activity. If you suspect a transit rider aboard a Metrolink train or aboard an RTA, Omnitrans or city-operated bus may be a victim of human trafficking, get to a safe spot and contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. For your safety, experts advise to not intervene directly to the victims, as that may expose yourself or the victim and his/her family to retaliation by the trafficker.

Governments from the local level all they way to the federal government have done a tremendous job in educating the public on this issue. But the agencies need your help too. Take the time to learn more about this grave human and civil rights injustice and how you can help safely stop it and get rid of it.

Human trafficking worldwide must be ridden from existence.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Let's Debate: The Proposed Split of RTA Route 27 between Riverside and Hemet

The proposed Route 27 changes also include the removal of the Sun City Center stop, but there are sound productive alternatives planned this time around.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

One of RTA's key backbone regional connector lines is Route 27 which links Riverside's Galleria at Tyler bus transfer hub with the Sun City Center area, Perris Station Transit Center, and Hemet. Line 27 is a lifeline route that connects these destinations together.

Splitting Route 27 into two segments at the Perris Station Transit Center

RTA has a proposal to split the line into two at the Perris Station Transit Center, improve service span and frequency, and cancel service to the Sun City Center stop. Under the hub-and-spoke routing model design which this proposal follows, splitting the line at Perris would allow for better timed connections and improved on-time performance with the layovers. The split will also better allow for seamless across-the-platform connections between Metrolink trains and the RTA bus network.

However, I well understand that cash-paying riders using the bus between Riverside and Hemet would need to pony up additional fare for the transfer. If the pool of passengers riding through Perris aboard Route 27 is significant, keeping the line as one with a short layover at Perris in lieu of a transfer combined with additional short turn trips between Perris and Hemet may be a better option. However, timed transfers and on-time performance are important factors for efficient bus service and splitting the line is a workable solution.

Proposal to cancel service to Sun City due low ridership

Regarding the removal of the Sun City portion of the route, this proposal came up before and RTA indicated that Route 74 operated similar routing. The removal of the Sun City stop and deviation would speed up Line 27's performance and productivity. The 74 would have seen a jump in productivity too as Sun City Route 27 weekday riders would migrate to the other line. However, The Transit Coalition previously opposed the proposal firmly. 5 1/2 years ago, here's what I and The Transit Coalition Chair Kenneth Alpern submitted to the agency:

We strongly object to the proposal to remove the Sun City Center bus stop from Route 27. Although, the proposal will greatly streamline and improve weekday productivity on Routes 27 and 74 , Route 74 does not operate on weekends; thus the Sun City area would be left without any public transportation on weekends under this proposal. We believe the demographics of the Sun City Center area warrant weekend public transportation service. We suggest that Route 27 bypass Sun City as proposed on weekdays only and that weekend Route 27 trips continue to serve the Sun City Center area until RTA has enough resources to introduce weekend service on Route 74. -TTC Comments for 2009 RTA Service Changes

Back in early 2009, Route 27 was the only bus route with weekend service that served Sun City. All other routes back then were weekday only. We and other concerned bus riders brought that to RTA's attention, and the agency decided to maintain the Line 27 connection both during weekdays and weekends, a smart thing to do. In addition, that was around the time when Route 61 was restructured from the unproductive Sun City Scooter circulator into a regional connector to Temecula. It was too early back then to advocate for expanded services for the 61 simply because RTA needed to build up the route's weekday ridership--which did happen. Today, the demographics are a bit different. At present, here are the lines that connect at the Sun City Center transfer point and their days of service:
  • Route 27: Weekday & Weekends
  • Route 40: Weekday Only
  • Route 61: Weekday & Saturday
  • Route 74: Weekday & Saturday
  • Route 208: Peak and Reverse-Peak Commuter Only
It's worth noting that Route 61 and 74 Saturday services are currently JARC-funded. However, the proposed transit plan calls for full weekend service with hourly headways on both lines. Establishing a timed transfer between Route 61, 27 and 28 would preserve transit mobility in Sun City while keeping the lines productive. Therefore, RTA's proposal is workable this time around.

That means the Coalition will back the Route 27/28 Sun City stop removal if all of these conditions are met either beforehand or simultaneously:
  • The JARC-funded Saturday services for Route 61 and 74 are included in RTA's regular operating budget for permanent operations.
  • Both Routes 61 and 74 attain Sunday service as proposed so that Sun City Sunday service is maintained.
  • Timed transfers are established at the Perris Station Transit Center.
Service Improvements

In addition to the split and Sun City stop removal, Route 27 will see frequency and span upgrades. The Hemet-to-Perris portion of the line will see its weekday headways doubled to every 30 minutes and both segments are proposed for later night service with the last bus arriving at its endpoint at 11PM. Also, both segments will see buses arriving every hour on weekends, a frequency up from every 75 minutes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Let's Debate: RTA Route 61, The Metrolink Perris Valley Line and Southwest Riverside County

Proposed: RTA has proposed extending Route 61 to the Perris Station Transit Center.
Graphic: Riverside Transit Agency

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

My next several posts will be Let's Debate articles on the specific routing proposals for the Riverside Transit Agency's proposed 10 Year Transit Plan. The proposed plan includes system-wide route changes and want to ensure that I cover each of them. Public open house meetings have begun today with comments due to RTA by October 7.

To kick all of this off, I'll start by taking a look at bus routes proposed to connect with the Metrolink Perris Valley Line starting with connections to/from Southwest Riverside County.

Currently, Route 208 is the CommuterLink express route that runs in between Riverside and Temecula via Perris and is currently the designated express route for the I-215 corridor which also serves as a peak hour Metrolink rail feeder. The proposed transit plan calls for the route to be maintained with additional morning and afternoon trips.

Route 61 Proposed to Connect to PVL at Perris

Outside of peak hours, current Southwest county transit riders needing to access the Metrolink system or other points north like Riverside and Moreno Valley have to go through a very slow bus journey. Such midday and weekend trips can span several hours. As a solution combined with the Metrolink Perris Valley Line project, The Transit Coalition has called for Route 61 to be further streamlined so that it can be extended north to the Perris Station Transit Center. Not only would that connect Southwest to the PVL for the off-peak train departures, that would also provide direct connections to Routes 22 and 27 to Riverside and Route 19 to Moreno Valley. That will considerably improve Southwest Riverside County inter-regional connections in a productive manner. Now, RTA has made it an official proposal in its proposed 10 Year Transit Plan. We hope this proposal moves forward and fast.

However, with the route streamlining, there will be some service disruptions here and there. In fairness, these negated areas should still be addressed and not ignored by transit planners.

First, Temecula's primary local bus transfer hub now at the County Center area is proposed to be merged with the Promenade Mall CommuterLink transfer point. On the surface, that is a very sound proposal. In fact, The Transit Coaltion has called for better local-to-CommuterLink connections in the region. Making the Promenade Mall area the region's designated transit hub will address that while we wait for the coming of the Twin Cities Transit Center. I have no problem supporting the merge as a whole. But the minor issue is maintaining transit mobility in the County Center area with the presence of the government offices there with at least one through bus route. I'll take a closer look at this connectivity issue and will address it more in detail when the Temecula routing proposals are analyzed.

Past-Recommendation: East/West Clinton Keith Rd bus route.
Graphic: RTA 2007 COA
The second minor issue is the cancellation of service to the Orchard Stone Creek shopping center. Route 61 is currently the sole route that operates through this area. Yes, removing the deviation certainly will speed up through-trips and improve productivity. That should be the goal. But here would be an ideal solution to address cancelled service to the shopping center and connecting multi-family housing units: A separate east/west bus route. RTA's COA in 2007 called for a weekday local route than ran every 70 minutes via Clinton Keith Road between Inland Valley Medical Center and French Valley. That route did not come to reality simply because the road infrastructure was never built between Murrieta and French Valley following the study. The Coalition had also envisioned an extension of a local route in Lake Elsinore as an alternative in order to sustain productive weekend service with buses running through every hour. A fair solution to maintain connections to the affected area would be to adopt this through route via Clinton Keith Road into the 2014 COA since the Clinton Kieth Road extension is still being planned.

In the north Murrieta and Menifee region, Route 61 is proposed to serve Antelope Road and no longer deviate to points east. I believe this solution would be best for the area. Again, this will speed up through-trips and improve productivity. Unlike the connectivity situation with the Orchard Stone Creek shopping center, destinations via Antelope Road are more active and should warrant a direct bus route. With the presence of a college campus, shopping centers, and higher density multi-family housing units, the proposed realignment is sound. East of Antelope, lower density tract and some rural development dominate the Menifee Road corridor. Regarding connectivity with these lower density areas, city officials should work with RTA on improving the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure between Menifee Road and Antelope so transit-dependent riders living in the outer tracts can continue to have safe access to/from the route. In addition, Route 74 will continue to serve parts of the affected areas in Menifee on weekdays and establishing a timed transfer at MSJC can help offset the mobility issues.

Finally, in Sun City, RTA has proposed realigning Route 61 and 40 to be more direct, allowing for a much better streamlined hub-and-spoke routing through the area. Establishing a timed transfer between the lines at the Sun City Center hub would address any minor connectivity issues with the realignments.

Route 61 has a very interesting history and a bright future ahead. Starting off as one of RTA's least productive circulators through Sun City, the former Sun City Scooter bus appears to be transforming into the I-215 Southwest Scooter--name not official--which is proposed to directly link Temecula to the Perris Station Transit Center with through-service in Sun City. I believe the streamlining will continue to transform and make Route 61 a key regional connector route in RTA's bus system.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Transportation Tips: Get your views heard and back them up with straight facts

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Riverside Transit Agency has recently opened a public comment period for its proposed 10 Year Transit Plan. I've posted an introductory Let's Debate about it on this blog on Wednesday. RTA has solicited public comments and I encourage you to get involved in the debate. More on that in a moment, but first here are some of your views concerning the proposed Meadowood and Lilac Hills Ranch developments taking place in the hills of north San Diego County.

Your Views

Whatever the final plan is (for the San Diego County Meadowood/Lilac Hills Ranch master plans), it needs to include better biking accommodations. Painting a 'BIK LAN' in the gutter of a 6-lane arterial isn't acceptable. Warrants should be adopted that identify when mixing traffic is no longer advisable (i.e. pce > 5000, 2+ lanes/direction). Also important is that biking to any BRT corridors is made easy, convenient, and inviting, especially from developments that are within 3-5 miles.  marven/IE Transit Talking Points Blog 

Photo: © Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Regarding the gutter, great point. With all ideological spin set aside, bike lanes that include a two foot concrete gutter can expose a serious safety risk for any ill-maintained corridor. That is a fact. I've seen numerous examples of two-foot concrete gutters being parts of four or five foot bicycle lanes which can cut the paved lane section down to three feet in width, even for higher speed arterials. Some storm drains can cut deeper into the lane. I've ridden through such examples and seen some of the hazards first hand. The risk is this: Whenever the joint that separates the paved asphalt from the concrete gutter is not sealed, has a gap, or is not level with the road, that creates a serious balancing hazard simply because the fault makes it difficult to track a bicycle wheel in the center area of the lane since the joint hazard is generally is located near the center--two feet into a five foot bike lane. Being a safety issue, this should be looked at from the state and federal level. An idea I would submit into the debate is that the joint separating the paved road and concrete sections must be maintained to be completely flat and level at all times and a maintenance plan must be at the ready; if not, the gutter and storm drain infrastructure cannot count toward the minimum bike lane width. In addition, local officials should take this risk under consideration and discourage such designs.

Regarding your other points, both the major and connector roads probably should have Class II lanes and the transit station should have bicycle amenities. San Diego County has generally done a good job of ensuring its transit centers are cycle-friendly. The developer is planning Class I paths through the open spaces; however, I don't have the information of whether or not they will be multi-use trails that would support bicycle travel or if they will simply be pedestrian footpaths.

(Lilac Hills Ranch) is a plan development that has a number of homes, walkable community and a lot of trails. It will have parks, community centers, and a sports center. It will have housing for the elderly, there is a care facility, a water reclamation plant that has storage. Anyone who is in Valley Center on the outskirts knows that is a welcome thing. It has a number of things. -Nancy Layne/KPBS

I found this quote from a Lilac Hills Ranch supporter of whom was interviewed by KPBS. The interview was actually part of a great debate on this project. Be sure to watch it if you're active in this discussion.

The dissenter in this debate is Steven Huchinson who is also the secretary for the Valley Center Community Planning Committee. He responded to Layne's statement by talking about conflicts about the general plan and labelled the development as leapfrog. I've brought up that point last Monday. However, the point Layne made about Lilac Hills' amenities being desirable and "welcome" is opinionated spin because the statement implies that since these features are generally desirable--which they may well be, then the Lilac Hills Ranch development must be desirable too. The truth is those amenities do not prove the case for the rest of the questionable development. Here's how:
  • Class I trails in the area - Nothing wrong with that. But go to La Cresta, a vast rural-ranch development master plan in the hills west of Wildomar to see some examples of how they can be integrated without the mass tract development.
  • Parks - Again, nothing wrong with those. Rural communities can and should have them. La Cresta has a giant ecological reserve open space located next door. If the Lilac Hills Ranch investor proposed 100 rural/ranch estates on the 608 acres and integrated an open space design into the plan with wildlife corridors and public space, we may have better proposal.
  • Sports center/Assisted Housing/Water reclamation - I find that Layne's statements may be incorrect here. I don't think the citizens may want a sports center on the outskirts of Valley Center. Plus, senior housing should generally be located within close reasonable distance of medical services but smaller group homes can work in rural areas. Also, public works industrial facilities such as a water reclamation plant need to be developed in areas designated for such use, not on a rural hillside. I can see how that proposal alone can muster community opposition. I would say that these extra features should be discussed with the citizens living in the community.
Transportation Tip: Whenever I argue a point, I always attempt to present a solution that is fair and best for the people and to back up the position with hard facts, history and examples. With the proposed mid-range RTA changes in store, there's going to be plenty of personal and emotional-based comments submitted to RTA. There's nothing wrong with voicing an opinion. But be sure to back up your position with facts and try to understand where RTA is headed with the proposed changes. If you oppose a specific routing proposal for a good fact-based reason, propose an alternative solution which fulfills RTA's overall attempt and goals.

In terms of the development proposals in San Diego County as I've mentioned earlier, there are multiple ways for investors to capitalize on rural properties without the urban sprawl. Perhaps the Lilac Hills Ranch investor can capitalize by developing 100 rural estates at about 5-6 acres each on the 608 acre lot each surrounded by beautiful green avocado and citrus groves.

Whenever you comment or debate in public hearings which includes RTA's public comment period of the 10 Year Transit Plan, back up your statements with facts and examples, refrain from including any ideological or political spin, and provide sound and fair alternatives if you object to any proposal. Yes, The Transit Coalition is pro-transit, but our positions are fair and fact-based. If you keep your argument straight, you're more likely to muster a better response since you have a rock-solid case in your hands.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Let's Debate: First looks at RTA's Proposed 10-Year Transit Network Plan

Get Involved: RTA is seeking public comments for its proposed 10 Year Transit Plan.
Graphic: Riverside Transit Agency

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Riverside Transit Agency is in the process of putting together a 10-Year short-to-mid range transit plan as part of its Comprehensive Operational Analysis study which is about 90% finished. It is expected to be completed this fall; The Transit Coalition uses the study's findings to help formulate the Long-Range Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit. A key purpose of the COA is to have transit plans and route changes at the ready to guide RTA service over the course of the next decade. RTA's last COA was conducted in 2007 which had several sound service recommendations; however, some of the proposed changes back then never materialized simply because of the 2008-2009 recession. The 2007 report is posted on Transit Coalition's website as well as a map outlining the suggested regional routes back then. For the current COA, RTA has reported that some of the changes over the 10 year span may take effect as early as January 2015.

The transit plan has many system-wide routing changes proposed and we plan to take a look at each one. While it's very preliminary, most of the routing changes are good, especially the long-overdue proposals to streamline the routes in Southwest Riverside County, improve service span on busy routes, and establish more frequent and clock-face headways.We praise RTA for its transparency and widespread public comment outlets on these important service change proposals.

The Transit Coalition will need to go through the proposed changes route-by-route, get a discussion going, and get comments over to RTA and posted to this blog.

Downtown Riverside Transit Center Update

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency
To start things off, when I scanned through the booklet for the first time, I found the bus routing proposals in the downtown area to be very interesting. A downtown transit center at the Metrolink station located near Vine Street appears to be the desired multi-modal transit hub in lieu of renovating the existing downtown terminal; however the hub would be served by the following bus routes: 15, 22, 208, 210 and 216, and Omnitrans Route 215 and SunLine Route 220. Also, both the Megabus to Las Vegas and Amtrak through-way motorcoaches currently stop at the train station. The Transit Coalition has long supported that a multi-modal transit hub be developed at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station but is currently taking a critical look at the proposed bus routing design for the rest of the downtown routes that will not stop at the hub. Also, RTA plans to upgrade numerous stops in the area which is very desirable given the high ridership demands. Stay tuned for more information on this.

Getting back to the summary of the transit plans, RTA will have public open house meetings all over the county during the course of the next several weeks starting on Monday. The official public hearing will be later in November. By that time, the COA study should be fully completed.

Comments for the 10-Year Transit Plan are due to RTA staff by October 7. We'll keep you up-to-date as we move closer. Don't forget that the Coalition's Long Range Future Vision of Mass Transit is a continuous work-in-progress. I just want to remind our readers that we always welcome productive and robust debate. "Public Hearings" never close here. I wish to thank all of you who have submitted comments to us. Please continue to reply and post constructive remarks to our articles. I will feature some of your views every Friday on the Transportation Tips post and will have a straight response to each.

Our reader comment rules are simple: No spam or unsolicited links. No irrelevant filibustering. No personal attacks or trolling. I also want to make it clear for replies that we will not lodge any personal attacks on dissenting points of views brought up in any of our discussion circles on this blog and the social networking sites. In fact, I welcome dissenting points of view into the discussion. Yes, the reply will be a fact-based and straight response that we believe would be best for the people backed up by examples and/or hard facts. I don't believe in spinning or dancing around an important point. There will be disagreements on solutions to problems. But I must restate that without such disagreement and constructive debate, there will be no incentive for all of us, me included, to search deeper for better and more fair transit mobility solutions. That's why I take dissenting points of view into consideration.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Do we have Urban Sprawl in North San Diego County or not?

Proposed Development at the northeast corner of I-15 and SR-76
Graphic: Rick Engineering Company / PardeeHomes
Note: Exhibit Only. Do not use for land use planning.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

This last weekend, I was tipped off by a concerned citizen who lives in the vast rural area that spans between Temecula and Escondido over potential urban sprawl proposed for the area. Searching around for proposed developments in this vicinity, I came across two major development master plans proposed: Meadowood and Lilac Hills Ranch.

The Meadowood plan which already has some of its connector roads built is located on undeveloped land at the base of a hillside at the northeast corner of the I-15 and Highway 76 interchange. It would include a total of 844 new homes, areas for professional office, commercial retail, a school site and a satellite campus for Palomar Community College. The junction itself as well as the Old Highway 395 corridor in the area can be considered the central activity hub for the Pala Mesa area, a small "suburb" within the town of Fallbrook. According to the investor, plans call for open space corridors and park space. The project is very similar in scope to the Dos Lagos area in Corona except that the main destination for the area would be a community college campus instead of a regional shopping center. I would say that students living in the Southwest Riverside County region would benefit with another college campus option. The San Diego County General Plan has this area zoned as a village which is defined as this:

The Village category identifies areas where a higher intensity and a wide range of land uses are established or have been planned. Typically, Village areas function as the center of community planning areas and contain the highest population and development densities. Village areas are typically served by both water and wastewater systems. Ideally, a Village would reflect a development pattern that is characterized as compact, higher density development that is located within walking distance of commercial services, employment centers, civic uses, and transit (when feasible).

Proposed Development at the southeast corner of I-15 and the Lilac Road Overpass.
Graphic: Lilac Hills Ranch
Note: Exhibit Only. Do not use for land use planning.
The Lilac Hills Ranch master plan, located a few miles south of Meadowood is a proposal that calls for the development of more than 1,700 homes over 608 acres. This project master plan has mustered massive public opposition--and for good reason.

The project is proposed just east of the iconic Lilac Road I-15 freeway overpass near the crest of a hill which separates the Valley Center, Bonsall and Pala Mesa regions. Although it is too located adjacent to the I-15 freeway, it is far from any existing town center or major junction. In fact, the project isn't even on land zoned for higher density or tract housing development. The area is currently zoned for rural/ranch development according to the San Diego County General Plan. The plan defines "Semi-Rural" development as this:

The Semi-Rural category identifies areas of the County that are appropriate for lower-density residential neighborhoods, recreation areas, agricultural operations, and related commercial uses that support rural communities. Semi-Rural areas often function as a transition between the Village and Rural Lands categories, providing opportunities for development, but without the intensity and level of public services expected in Villages and with design approaches that blend the development with the natural landscape. Semi-Rural residential densities are derived in consideration of the physical conditions, community character, and availability of public services, roads, and other infrastructure. Higher densities within the allowable range should be located near Village areas, while lower densities should be located near Rural Land areas. Site design methods that reduce on-site infrastructure costs and preserve contiguous open space or agricultural operations are encouraged.

Current Land Use Plans in the affected area.
Graphic: County of San Diego
The Lilac Hills Ranch master plan certainly does not fit into the category of "Semi-Rural" development. As proposed, it fits into the "Village" category. Therefore, we have a very legit location problem per the land use plan. This isn't NIMBY opposition here.

Any amendments to the General Plan or its land use policies certainly should have local support. But the debate and opposition for the Lilac Hills Ranch plan is intense. The investor behind this proposal should take this plan and relocate it to an area designated for such mixed-use development. To be fair, I've taken a look at some of the graphics and media published by the Lilac Hills investor and the designs are beautiful. San Diego County is also in need of a better housing supply, but there are other better-suited locations all over the county for Lilac Hills Ranch to thrive and address the housing problem, not at the current location. County officials should work with these investors and local residents to solve this problem. Plus, there are plenty of opportunities for an investor to improve and capitalize on the land without disrupting the semi-rural nature of the region.

Because the Lilac Hills Ranch project would need a General Plan amendment that would convert land designated for "Semi-Rural" to "Village", County officials should first muster support of local area residents from Bonsall, Pala Mesa, and Valley Center before voting for such changes. That would be the fair thing to do. But based on the local response, that is not happening. And San Diego County elected officials must not ignore or stonewall their people's position of this change during public hearings. Development investor pandering must not be allowed to dictate land use policies. That's not what our democratic republic is about. Otherwise, we have a serious case of urban sprawl which must be opposed.

I-15 Infrastructure and the Meadowood Master Plan

In addition, we're calling for San Diego County officials to ensure longer-range infrastructure upgrades are expedited and funded through the Meadowood master plan. If this plan moves forward and puts a strain on infrastructure, that too would be sprawl and development should be postponed until the public works improvement projects can be completed first. College campuses draw much activity and we don't need the I-15 in north San Diego County turning into the 91 due to over-development and lack of infrastructure.

Longer-Range: I-15 HOT Lanes through the affected regions
Here are some more facts: The I-15 between Temecula and Escondido is a major commuter corridor which is nearing capacity. The freeway has already begun to show signs of slowing during the afternoon commute at East Mission Road. The northbound onramp from central Fallbrook puts more cars onto the freeway than it can currently handle, thus creating a minor bottleneck. Adding to the chokepoint is an issue of slow trucks making the climb up the hill. San Diego County officials have included the addition of high occupancy toll lanes for the corridor in long-range regional transportation plans, but the project is not slated for completion until 2050 since funding has not been identified.

Let's Debate: Should the Meadowood developers expedite the I-15 HOT lane and rapid express BRT projects through the affected area?
Let's Debate: Should the developers fund and expedite the I-15 HOT lane project?

Here would be an ideal solution I submit into the debate to ensure developments along the I-15 corridor do not strain the transportation system once they are completely built out. San Diego County officials should take this under consideration.

Developers that build within the Meadowood master plan would need to pay into the HOT lane segment project linking SR-76 to Temecula Parkway in Riverside County through the Transportation Impact Fee program. The developers would design and build the local roads and other public works capital themselves with efficient county government oversight. Another option would be for local and state officials to give the developer the option to design and construct the HOT lanes themselves in the I-15 right-of-way in return for a rebate on TIF fees or other taxes with efficient oversight from Caltrans. Either way, the HOT lanes and bus transit infrastructure would need to be expedited. We do not need to wait until the college students hit retirement in 2050 before the lanes materialize.

The four new toll lanes should be an extension of the I-15 Express Lanes with the same usage policy and transit infrastructure--carpoools 2 or more free. In addition, the developers should pay for or take care of the design and construction of a freeway interchange at Steward Canyon so that not all of Meadowood's freeway traffic is routed to the SR-76 interchange. Also the the plans should call for a HOT lane direct access ramp at the Pala Mesa Drive overpass and additional bus transit amenities at the Pala Mesa Park & Ride. That would allow future transit buses and carpools seamless connections to the college, the rest of Meadowood and the SR-76 corridor.

Stopping North San Diego County Urban Sprawl

The bottom line is that San Diego County officials should not allow these master plans to go unchecked. If developer pandering leads to worsened traffic along the I-15 through this region because nothing was done to improve the infrastructure with the massive developments, existing residents and the voting public will not be happy about it, especially if county General Plan amendments are involved without local support. And we've all seen what happens when voters unite, expose development investor pandering, and hold their elected representatives accountable at the voting booth. Moreno Valley, San Jacinto and Murrieta all have histories of individual pandering politicians being recalled and booted from office simply because they did not reflect the people's values.

No to urban sprawl.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Transportation Tips: Let choice riders know of the bus transit system

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Riverside Transit Agency has once again reported that bus ridership counts are at record levels. During Fiscal Year 2013-2014 which started on July 1st, 9 out of the 12 months through the end of June broke ridership records. According to an RTA press release, Riverside County public transit buses carried more than 9.5 million boardings, an all-time high in its 37 year history. RTA handled 9.2 million trips the previous year, a record back then. Year-to-year ridership gains are up 3.5%. But take a look at this stat: According to the American Public Transportation Association, nationwide transit ridership since 1995 is up a whopping 37%, outpacing the national population growth of 20%. That alone should be evidence to support the inclusion of transit infrastructure in highway and surface transportation improvement projects to address the growth demands.

RTA Chairman of the Board Jeff Comerchero reported that many RTA riders are choice riders, meaning they are not necessarily transit dependent. That generally includes commuters who elect to take the bus to/from work or school instead of driving. That is certainly true with RTA's partnership with the area's primary colleges through the Go-Pass and U-Pass programs. Moreno Valley College is the next school to be added.

RTA is also working on some other big improvements for its bus system. More on those in a moment, but first here are some of your views and comments I've found around the Internet concerning the current events of this week.

Your Views and Internet Comments on Current Events

Any updates on Perris Metrolink? I'm wondering if RTA will have better connections to the new line than they currently have to Corona (especially late night and weekend runs). William-Robert Kent Cousert/Facebook

Construction of the Perris Valley Line (PVL), which will extend the Metrolink regional rail service into Perris via the 91 Line, began in October 2013. RCTC has posted on the PVL website that "it will provide greater access to Southern California’s commuter rail network for residents in Menifee, Murrieta, Temecula, San Jacinto, Hemet, Lake Elsinore and Wildomar." Earlier this summer, Metrolink added weekend trips along the 91 Line. Late 2015 is the predicted start date.

To answer the second question, RTA's updated COA to be finished within a few months will recommend the specific routing. I'm predicting a single-seat local or regional connector route between the planned Twin Cities Transit Center and the Perris Station Transit Center from early morning to late evening.

If (the I-405 toll lanes are) going to be open tolling for carpools like in San Diego, then we're talking. Nevram Norman/Facebook

Graphic: OCTA/I-405 Improvement Project
As I've mentioned Wednesday, if Caltrans adopts the Coalition's position of free non-transponder 2+ carpooling with bus transit infrastructure for the I-405 Improvement Project in Orange County as demonstrated in San Diego County, we might begin to see some agreements form in this debate. Parties from both sides--both supporters and dissenters--should do a field study of the I-15 Express Lanes and advocate for its usage policy: All HOV's and carpools 2 or more travel toll-free with no transponder requirement; only solo drivers have to use the FasTrak and pay tolls which would be used to fund BRT express services and basic maintenance of the corridor. Should the lanes approach full capacity even with high tolls, carpools only. That is the fair thing to do.

This is good. The 1/2 cent sales tax will fund the (I-405 freeway) expansion and then you get to pay again when you use it. Isn't working for the government wonderful. Not so much for the taxpayer. Patriot_ll/CBS 2 News

Orange County's M2 1/2 sales tax will actually pay for the addition of one general purpose lane for the I-405 corridor. Caltrans will be seeking an alternative funding source for the 2nd HOT lane. Thus, the M2 money will not directly apply to the toll lanes. But the commentator does have a good point: What is seriously questionable is the conversion of the existing, single paid-for carpool lane to toll. If the 2+ HOV's are required to have transponders or pay discounted tolls, motorists not opting to get a FasTrak would see no net-gain in the M2-funded lane addition although some of the general purpose lane traffic will be redistributed to the HOT lanes.

(Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi) did the wrong thing and should have to face the consequences like anybody else...he took loaded weapons into Mexico - I don't have any sympathy. You do the dance, you pay the piper. He needs to serve his time just like any other criminal. One excuse is as good as another and he didn't take any wrong turn...covering up for something. - Donna Johnson/NBC 7 San Diego

An abundance of evidence shows the Marine could have very well turned into Mexico by accident. In the US justice and trial-by-jury system, that's called reasonable doubt and that's why we Americans should not convict him nor anybody else in similar circumstances of intending to smuggle weapons or aiding and abetting the drug cartels. Fair-minded individuals would find Tahmooressi innocent of posing a threat to Mexican citizens. The Mexican law of 7-21 years in prison for such a mistake, and the requirement for a defendant in that country to prove his innocence in front of a biased judge without judicial discretion instead of the prosecutor having to prove guilt in front of an impartial jury--Absolutely inhumane. Mexican judges have the power to gather evidence in a criminal case on their own which easily wipes out impartiality and fairness all together. Tahmooressi is in a position where he has to prove his innocence or face years of prison, and that is the truth. That's why the federal government has an obligation to get these United States citizens, let alone a US combat Veteran diagnosed with PTSD out of that gross situation immediately. And the feds and the White House do have that negotiating power to get it done. Example: Turn these people back to the USA or trade agreements with Mexico will be cut off.

(Sgt. Andrew Tahmooressi) was running guns. The Mexican authorities were waiting for him. I don't buy the story about accidentally going into Mexico. It's not like the border isn't well marked. - Jonathan Reid/NBC 7 San Diego 

Yes, the border is well marked; that is, along the I-5. That's not where the Marine made the mistake. The error occurred on Camino de la Plaza near the Border Station Parking Lot after dark where the unlit "Mexico Only - No USA Return" signs had decaying letters and vandalism. Also, Mexican authorities can wait and direct any incoming vehicle at its port to secondary inspection, even cars that get a green light to proceed through. News reports show Tahmooressi's car did not have a front license plate which is why he was pulled to secondary inspection upon the miss-entry. That evidence is still not sufficient to convict him of smuggling. He was moving to San Diego from Florida and that state does not require front license plates on its cars. That's a sound reasonable doubt.

Transportation Tip: Let choice riders know of the bus transit system

As our Inland Empire transit agencies work hard to secure the funds and improve infrastructure and speed up and expand services, we should encourage more choice-riders to try out the bus system.

RTA recently brought in a new fleet of transit buses, implemented Saturday service on some routes, and is working on extending service span into the later hours of the night for major routes. The Transit Coalition is calling for an early morning to late night service span on key routes and connectors as demands increase and market economy improves. RTA has many bus improvements in store for the region including bus shelter improvements at the Galleria at Tyler and Moreno Valley Mall transfer hubs. It is moving forward with RapidLink service between Riverside and Corona starting with peak hour limited stops runs of Route 1. In addition, a fresh Comprehensive Operational Analysis study will finished within the next few month which will provide a blueprint of bus service improvements. RTA's previous COA report was compiled in 2007 and it is posted at The Transit Coalition's website. Data and recommendations from the COA contribute toward the Coalition's future vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit.

Tip to bus riders: Let others know of the new bus transit options.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Let's Debate: Should the I-405 in Orange County have Toll Lanes or not?

Graphic: OCTA/I-405 Project

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Transit Coalition has noted that many Inland Empire residents either commute or travel to destinations along the I-405 corridor between Irvine and West Los Angeles. Transportation officials have once again brought the idea of adding toll lanes to the freeway in west the Orange County segment. Let me tell you: There has been some intense debate on this proposal. HOT lanes--if built right--have proven to work. But whole city bodies and local politicians in west Orange County firmly object to HOT lanes on the I-405 and they have some good points. What are your thoughts?

Before we jump to any hasty conclusion of the toll lane proposal, we need to get some hard facts into the debate. I will be in contact with the agencies involved to get some specific facts and will share them to you as this debate moves forward, but several productive fact sheets have already been released by the agencies. So, here's a run down:

According to the project overview page by the Orange County Transportation Authority, the I-405 segment through west Orange County between Seal Beach and Costa Mesa carries more than 300,000 vehicle trips each day in some sections. OCTA predicts traffic volumes on the I-405 are expected to increase significantly as the population is expected to grow 11 percent by 2040.

Graphic: OCTA/I-405 Project
Transit mobility options are very limited. The only current high occupancy vehicle infrastructure that the corridor has a single 2+ carpool lane each way with HOV lane direct access ramps at select freeway interchanges. I have to say that this major transportation corridor is very car-centric and is starved for better transit options. Also, during rush hours when the general purpose lanes become slow, so does the carpool lane. However, the carpool lane does generally manage to move the cars slightly faster than the regular lanes during peak congestion.

As a solution, Caltrans, in cooperation with the OCTA, is proposing to widen the I-405 between the 73 Freeway and I-605. OCTA has indicated that the I-405 Improvement Project is funded by Measure M Orange County’s half-cent sales tax for transportation improvements. Here were the three build alternatives proposed:
  • Alternative 1:  Add one general purpose lane in each direction--The Measure M2 (M2) Project K as approved by the voters, adds one GP lane in each direction on the I-405 from Euclid Street to the Interstate 605 (I-605) interchange.
  • Alternative 2: Add two GP lanes in each direction--The M2 Project K with the addition of a second GP lane in the northbound direction from Brookhurst Street to the State Route 22 (SR-22) / 7th Street interchange, and the addition of a second GP lane in the southbound direction from the Seal Beach Boulevard on-ramp to Brookhurst Street.
  • Alternative 3: Add one GP lane and one high occupancy tolled express lane in each direction--Includes M2 Project K and adds a HOT/express lane in each direction on I-405 from State Route 73 (SR-73) to SR-22. The HOT/express lane would be combined with the existing high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, and these would be converted to HOT/express lanes providing two HOT/express lanes in each direction on I-405 between SR-73 and I-605. The westbound HOV connector from SR-22 to I-405 would also be operated as a HOT/express lane.
Local officials and many members on the OCTA Board of Directors did not like Alternative 3 simply because it involved tolling. According to the original project plans per this Caltrans page, the tolled express facility would have operated so that 2-person carpools would be tolled and 3-person carpools with a FasTrak transponder would either be free or receive a discount, a usage policy very similar to the 91 Express Lanes.

The opposition was so intense that the OCTA Board on December 9, 2013  reaffirmed their recommendation of Alternative 1 as the Preferred Alternative to Caltrans.

But since the I-405 is state-owned, Caltrans has more recently decided that Alternative 3 will be built while honoring OCTA's voter-approved M2 commitment. Here are some more facts according to Caltrans:

All of Orange County's M2 funding for the I-405 project will be directed to adding one general purpose lane in each direction. While OCTA proceeds with the general-purpose lane design-build contract, Caltrans will pursue other funding sources and will phase in the design and construction of a second lane which would be part of a two-lane high occupancy toll lane system. That would include converting the existing carpool lane to HOT. That of course has rallied the opposition with a valid point where if the free carpools are either tolled or have to get FasTrak transponders to use the HOT lanes, those not opting to pre-register will see no net gain in terms of additional lanes since there will be no free 2+ carpool lane. To be fair, the dual HOT lane system will reduce traffic in the general purpose lanes since the cars will be redistributed to the HOT lanes.

But here's an interesting statement the state agency had in the fact sheet regarding carpools in the toll lanes:

Caltrans will be pursuing other sources of funding (TIFIA, GARVEE, STIP, SHOPP loan, P3) for the additional lane. Alternative 3 meets the M2 Project description, to “add new lanes” and to “make best use of available freeway property.”

HOT lanes optimize the use of available roadway capacity, increase people throughput compared with general purpose lanes during peak periods, increases choice for travelers while also incentivizes carpooling and provides opportunities for increase transit. Caltrans will do everything possible to allow vehicles with 2 or more occupants to ride free or with deep discounts.

Graphic: OCTA/I-405 Project
"Caltrans will do everything possible to allow vehicles with 2 or more occupants to ride free or with deep discounts." Very interesting choice of words. To keep the I-405 solution fair for all, Caltrans really should strike out the "deep discounts" option and keep the high occupancy lane free for 2+ carpools 24/7 and not require the HOV's to get a FasTrak transponder. The Transit Coalition has maintained a general position that it is essential for carpools to have free access to HOT lanes without a requirement for transponders and we currently object to pre-registration policies that would result in a reduction of carpools instead of toll-paying single occupancy vehicles through the HOV facilities, especially projects that involve carpool lane conversions into HOT lanes. We did take a small exception to this position regarding the 91 Express Lane extension simply because HOV demands for the 91 are so high that 3 needed to be the carpool during heavy travel periods and the existing 2+ carpool lane was so slow that it pretty much looked like a general purpose lane in terms of speed. We're calling for state and federal officials to pay off the bond debt and amend state law so that it can financially support free 24/7 non-transponder carpooling and local officials should continue to work on getting efficient rapid express BRT launched for the corridor between Riverside and a major transit hub in Orange County like the Fullerton Transportation Center, the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center, or the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center.

Photo: San Diego MTS
Back to the 405.

Because the toll lane debate is so intense, I am calling for anybody involved--whether you support the I-405 toll lanes or firmly object--to check out the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego, to explore the new rapid express BRT services there, and to take a test drive. If you object to paying tolls, fine; bring along somebody. The I-15 Express Lanes down south supports free non-transponder carpooling. Carpools and any other 2+ HOV can hop on for free and go, 24/7. Only solo drivers have to have a FasTrak and pay the posted toll. The HOT lanes have direct access ramps to/from transit stations, making a rapid express BRT alternative very feasible, fast and productive. The CHP enforces the carpool and toll payment process with heavy fines for carpool lane cheaters.

We believe a system like this for the I-405 between Irvine and West Los Angeles can fulfill the needs of both sides of the I-405 toll lane debate: The high occupancy lane capacity would be doubled, sustain fast speeds even during rush hours, and allow for better rapid express transit options; yet, all 2+ HOV's regardless if they have FasTrak account or not can continue to use the high occupancy vehicle infrastructure for free. One key difference is the carpool lane will be fast once more during rush hours. That is a solution that is fair for the corridor and the people who rely on it. And we suggest that transportation officials adopt it.

What do you think of all of this? We will take a closer took at this important proposal as it unfolds, gather public input, and will compile them here. We will be in contact with the agencies involved to get you the facts and what is being planned.